The Cora Tree
For the longest time, there were no roads that lead down Hatteras Island. The few residents of the villages that dotted the island were dependent upon the sailboats that plied the shallow sounds for regular trade. The Atlantic supplied its own deliveries in the form of shipwrecks and whatever it saw fit to wash up from the cargo holds of the sailing ships that cracked open on the shallow and shifting sands off the coast of the Outer Banks. They made use of whatever they could get, for the life of a Banker was a hard one. They understood the gifts of the sea, for most of them were descended from victims of shipwrecks themselves. They also knew not to take chances with fate. One of the residents was a woman named Cora, who lived outside the village in a small shack on the sound, with only a small child, a toddler, as her constant companion. Everyone knew to give Cora a wide berth when she was around, for Cora was most surely a witch. She had made a cow go dry, never to give milk again. Once she cursed a boy with a horrid fever when he made a face at her baby. And fishermen would sometimes find their nets empty, even though they knew they were full of fish before they pulled the nets up. So, the villagers kept clear of her, counted on good fortune, and watched to see what would wash up next. The trouble was, trouble could wash up any time.
It came in the form of Captain Eli Blood, a New England sea captain and his West Indies crew. His ship broke open on the sandbars after a storm, so he hand his crew wrestled their cargo ashore and camped out on the beaches of Hatteras while they awaited rescue from the cargo line up north. The crew simply tied hammocks up and camped on the sand, but a captain deserved better accommodations than that. Captain James Farrow, a local fisherman, took in Captain Blood, as was the custom. Farrow was well liked, a leader of the village of Buxton, and a good fair man. He did his best to offer comfort to the brash New Englander. But things would take a turn for the worse soon enough. One morning, a young man, a popular boy of the village, was found dead on the beach. His face was frozen in terror. Small footprints led away from the body, into the woods toward the village. When Captain Blood heard about this, he immediately concluded it was Cora, the witch. He and his crew went to Cora's shack and gathered her up, tying her roughly with thick rope. He was determined to test her. He proclaimed himself a witch hunter, and knew how to find out if she was truly a witch. First, he threw her into the sound, saying that while an innocent woman would drown, a witch would use her magic to save herself. In the shallow waters, Cora struggled, but kept her head above water. Next, Blood took his knife, the large blade meant to hack through rope, and tried to cut Cora's gathered wet hair. It wouldn't cut, Blood decreed, describing it to be like wire. Finally, he cut Cora's hand, then his own, mingling the blood in a bucket of the brackish water of the sound, and gazed into it. He proclaimed to see her cavorting with the devil himself. Satisfied, Blood proclaimed her to be a witch, and he must carry out the punishment. James Farrow pleaded with Blood not to do anything. Cora may be guilty, but she should be tried fairly, not by strange mystical tests. But Blood would have none of that. He and his crew gathered twigs around a large twisted tree in the village, then tied Cora and her baby to the tree with thick rope. The villagers were terrified, both at the idea of burning a woman to death, along with the child, but also the wrath they may then receive. But they were also terrified of the crew and their rise of bloodlust in killing a witch. Again Farrow pled for mercy and calm. But Blood was drawn to action and torment. As he approached the tree and Cora with a torch, the skies darkened. Thick clouds rolled in , obscuring the sun. A wholly unnatural storm blew in from nowhere. Everyone was aghast, except Blood, who steeled his eyes on Cora and her baby. Suddenly, the baby began to twist and wiggle in its bonds. The child turned into a hissing screaming cat, a wild beast barely constrained by the ropes. Even the crew backed away from that, and many villagers began to run. But Blood was set to his task.
Just as he touched his torch to the kindling, a huge lightning bolt struck the tree, accompanied by an immediate thunderclap. Everyone around the tree was knocked down to the ground, unconscious from the blast. It took time for people to revive from the concussion, and when they did, they discovered a mysterious and terrifying sight. The tree had been split down the middle, straight to the trunk. It smoked from the bolt, and the smell of brimstone hung heavy in the air. The ropes still remained, tight around the tree. But Cora was gone. Captain Blood, the last to revive, as he was closest to the strike, staggered to the tree in disbelief. As he got close he discovered something. There, in the trunk, as if carved with a fingertip charged with fire, were four letters. CORA
Cora the witch was never seen again. Nor was her child, the wild monster cat. Fishermen found that for weeks afterward, they never caught anything. A gloom settled in to the village that would not lift for a month, a gray motionless twilight that succumbed only to a cloudy dark nights. The skies only cleared when Captain Blood and his crew, now relegated to their camp on the beach, were finally removed by another ship. Now, people may find this story to be an interesting bit of legend, or just a spooky witch's tale. But if you go to the village of Buxton even today, you can still find the tree, split down the middle, two parts growing up, with a hollow in the middle. And there in the bark, still legible to this day, is the name carved long ago, CORA.